Dallas (Prayers for Sale, 2009, etc.) centers her eighth novel around an avalanche that strikes the mining town of Swandyke, Colo., in the 1920s, trapping nine young children under the snow.
By the end of the first chapter readers know the names of the children and that only four will survive, but Dallas’s interest lies with their parents. There are sisters Lucy and Dolly. Dolly stole Lucy’s fiancé years ago, and Lucy, though married to a man who makes her happy, has never forgiven Dolly. Then there is Grace, the wife of the mine superintendent. After her father lost the family fortune, Grace seduced her husband into marriage out of the mistaken fear she was pregnant with another man’s child. Unable to fit in with the local women, she’s become a lonely neurotic. The only black man in Swandyke and a single father to his daughter, Joe tries to keep a low profile since running away from Alabama after he hit the white doctor who caused his wife’s death. Septuagenarian Minder Evans is raising his orphaned grandson. A Civil War vet, Minder’s guilt over letting his best friend die has left him a bitter loner. Finally there is Essie, the prostitute whose secrets include her Jewish background and her daughter, being raised by another woman until Essie can pull together enough money to leave the whorehouse. The avalanche story does not pick up again until the seventh chapter, when Grace witnesses the snow slide and alerts the town. As the digging out begins, and even after the surviving children are identified, the novel remains focused on how the tragedy redeems the adults’ lives. The sisters reunite. Grace finds her place in the community and becomes a novelist. Minder reaches out both to Essie, who leaves prostitution to care for him, and Joe, whose suicide he prevents.
Dallas lays on the sentimentality (and Christian overtones), but her sense of time and place is pitch perfect and her affection for her characters infectious.